The Japanese government said Monday it is seeking arbitration in a dispute with South Korea over the issue of compensation for laborers made to work during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula through the end of World War II.
The Foreign Ministry said it has asked for the establishment of an arbitration panel involving members from a third country as provided for under a 1965 bilateral accord, a request the South Korean government said it would "carefully review."
The neighboring countries have been clashing over the issue since October last year, when South Korea's top court ordered a Japanese steelmaker to remunerate Korean workers over forced labor. Since then, a number of similar rulings have been handed down against other Japanese companies.
While the companies have refused to comply based on Tokyo's position that the issue of compensation was resolved "finally and completely" under the accord, lawyers for the Korean laborers have pushed forward with efforts to liquidate the firms' assets.
The Foreign Ministry said it has repeatedly asked South Korea since January to open up diplomatic talks on the issue but has received no response.
Remarks last week by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak Yeon suggesting that Seoul is unwilling to take action because the issue is a judicial one appear to have played a role in the decision to seek arbitration.
"We have to acknowledge that, based also on recent comments by the South Korean leadership, they are unlikely to take concrete steps (sought by Japan) at this time," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference Monday.
The Foreign Ministry said it summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan Pyo and "strongly urged" that his country comply with setting up the three-member panel, which will consist of one person each appointed by Japan and South Korea, who will together choose a third person.